Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An open letter to #occupywallstreet

Dear protesters,

Thank you for standing up for the majority, for the oppressed, and for the future of our country.

Can we talk for a moment about what to do next?  See, I'm here at home and having trouble following plot.

I can see the organic rage rising in this country.  You're giving voice to that.  But what next?

Okay, so there were some basic organizing problems.  The first problem was that you didn't plan this well enough.  You didn't scout location, check how it was all going to go down, or have an particular unifying message people could get behind.  Rage is not a message, it's an effect of a message.   We'll get back to that in a future post if this movement builds and sustains.  First, let's talk about what you are not doing RIGHT NOW that could change this game.

Build out your pyramid

Visible high-level protest is not in and of itself a movement.  Protest is the tip of the iceberg.  At the base of the pyramid should be a huge groundswell of people who believe the same things you do.  This ground floor exists, and you've tried to tap into it through social media, but that's not sufficient because there's not a message to get across and the people don't yet understand how it relates to them.  You have to tap people on the shoulder personally.  Here are some things you can do right now, today:

1.  Have every single protester at the site sit down and send a heartfelt email, at least two paragraphs plus a photo that represents their time there.  TODAY.  RIGHT NOW.  They should say why they are there, what they have seen while they are there, and ask for everyone receiving the email to support them.  That could be through forwarding the email, copying the email into their own blog or online account, or by talking to a few other people they know in New York and asking them to join the protest, even if it's just for an hour, or a day.

Some ideas of who to send the email to: family or friends who may be supportive, any groups they are a member of (campus groups, church, softball team) who may be receptive, or, for some, maybe their entire address book.

The idea is that for every protester on-site there is a team of people behind them.  The protesters will need that emotional (and perhaps financial) support if this goes on as intended, and the people who support them will have a direct contact, with open communication lines, so that they can know WHY the protest is happening and WHAT is happening at the protest site, firsthand and without rumors.  Your Aunt Ethel in Iowa might support you and you don't even know it!  And she can brag about you to her book club.  Your chiropractor's brother may work for a major news outlet!  Maybe he's heard of the protests but didn't have enough confidence in the news out of Twitter to pitch a story.

2. Get more people like this: http://twitpic.com/6ncd9t.   

Right now, the protesters appear to be a homogeneous group.  Students, anarchists, and professional protesters is how you're being described.   There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't represent the entire country.  In fact, places like Fox News will always use this to write you off.  And so will people who have forgotten what it was like to be students or who have apprehension about non-two-party political beliefs.  The entire country is who you are protesting FOR - get the entire country in on this.  Soccer moms from the suburbs, goths from Minnesota, grandparents on a fixed income.  Use the email in #1 to invite people to stop by.  Show your priest/pastor around Liberty Square - or your neighbor on her way home from work.

BE diverse, and COMMUNICATE your diversity. If you see that there's no one like you there, you're less likely to come on down.  Make it warm and open to everyone from all walks of life.

3. Get your central message and several non-binding ancillary messages onto a main resource page.  It should be clear, concise, do-able, and support the main message without alienating large swaths of the country.  It should have several concrete action items people can take to participate, and it should be updated hourly with new information, removing old information.

Here is an example of now NOT to do it: http://coupmedia.org/occupywallstreet/occupy-wall-street-official-demands-2009. (Link found passed around on Twitter today)

Why is this an example of how not to do it?  The very first thing at the top: "Repeal the Patriot Act".  Sure, it's a good message, but what does that have to do with Wall Street?  If you want to repeal the Patriot Act, lobby congress, don't camp out on Wall Street.

Number three is "Forced Acquisition of the Federal Reserve for $1Billion USD by the US Congress".  The problem with this message is that it's long, complicated, and requires reading a huge wall of text to decide if one wants to get behind it.  This point doesn't appeal to the 99% - how does it affect their daily lives?  How would it improve our country or our lifestyles if it were to happen?  How does this relate to Wall Street and the people protesting?  It doesn't.

One message, one or two sentences at the most, should unify people.  After that, each small breakout group or existing supporting group should be able to create a platform that is for them, but is non-binding to the entire movement.  If Code Pink wants to talk about tax dollars going for war, they should have that place in the movement.  But your average person at home shouldn't have to buy into that message to feel included in this movement.

Maybe there is a serviceman out there who is diametrically opposed to Code Pink's anti-war message who can't find work and is about to lose his house.  Make room for him.  What message could he come together with?  Use that one as the main message and make it clear that  the sub-messages and supporting groups are all on the same side, but each also hold individual messages that you don't have to get on board with in order to participate.

4.  Get ahold of rumor control.  In real time, ASAP, correct them as hard as you can in real time and correct people still spreading the rumors later.  Empower everyone to send at least as much correct information out there as there are rumors.  No, Twitter was not censoring trending topics, and Yahoo was being honest when they stated that a link got into their spam filters.  As far as I can find, no protester is in critical condition.

Rumors take away from the more powerful message of what is actually going on.  At times today there were more rumors than fact on the #occupywallstreet Twitter feed.  Once mainstream media discovers that a huge outcry was over false information they're far less likely to put their professional names on the line to cover you.

Don't be the boy who cried wolf, and don't let those who represent you do that either.  Stop with the paranoia, it makes the entire movement look bad.  In a large, leaderless, grassroots movement, every statement on behalf of the movement is taken with the same level of trust and authority.

5.  Do a daily newscast so that we can get more information and feel connected.  Those at the scene should forget about mainstream media.  Create a channel on You Tube and we will help spread it.  Don't do it half-assed.  Get a person who is great at speaking on camera.  Have them give an update on the day's activities.  They should speak off of notes and rehearse, so there are no "um.." or "aaah.." or "I don't know where I was going with that point" nervous cross-talk.

Interview guests who stop by.  Can you get one ex-Wall Street exec, one politician, one financial expert, one media personality per day?  Give them a five to ten minute interview on air with you.  Handle those interviews with class, research, information, and appreciation and in a few days I bet you'll have people begging you to come down and be interviewed.

Follow each newscast or interview with some more in-depth blog posts or text-interviews.  Give everyone at home something to consume other than Twitter to keep us mindful of the protest every day and so that we can follow along even if we don't have time to continually refresh our computer screens and search out information.

Maybe have a confessional booth so that protesters can say why they are there, what this means to them, or tell a story about an encounter they had that day.  EDIT TOGETHER CLIPS FOR THE DAILY NEWSCAST.  Feed me information that is important, don't make me hunt through it all to find the plot.  I will bet everything that someone at the protest site right now has a friend who could do this (even someone off-site) faster than you can read this blog post.  Use the network of contacts/supporters from #1 to build out your talent pool!

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for caring about our country.  Stay safe, stay warm, and know that we want to support you.   We want you to succeed.